TWIN FALLS — Large-scale agricultural research is set to have a home in the Magic Valley.
State lawmakers set aside the first $10 million to help fund a center here, but more fundraising is needed for the project to be realized.
Educational institutions and industry groups will have to chip in two-thirds of the estimated $45 million needed to establish the center. If the first two-thirds of the groups’ share is raised by early 2018, the state is expected to kick in its last $5 million to get the Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment, or CAFE, off the ground, state Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said in late March.
So where do things stand now?
The University of Idaho, which is taking the lead on the project, is working out more of the details now and plans to release more information on the plans in the first half of May, university spokeswoman Jodi Walker said.
The university is in talks with several other colleges and universities, including the College of Southern Idaho, Brigham Young University – Idaho and Idaho State University, to see how they plan to participate and how much financial support they are willing to provide. CSI hasn’t decided whether or how much money it will chip in, CSI Executive Vice President Todd Schwarz said.
There are similar large agricultural research facilities farther east, and University of Idaho operates smaller research and extension centers throughout the state, including in Kimberly and Twin Falls, but none do the same type of large-scale research on Western agriculture as is being done at Cornell University in New York, for example.
The Idaho Dairymen’s Association, which will be one of the industry groups to help support the facility, has already raised $2 million of the $3 million it plans to contribute and is working to raise the rest, said Bob Naerebout, the group’s executive director.
No location has been picked for the center, and many of the details of what the facility will look like and what will happen there are still being hammered out, Walker said. One possible new addition, Schwarz said, is the possibility of researching food processing as well as production at the CAFE.
“We had a great conversation in our food processing (technology) lab on how we can work together on the processing side,” he said.
Plans for a similar research center focused on the dairy and livestock industries were first discussed in 2007 but shelved because of lack of money during the recession. With strong support from Magic Valley lawmakers and with state revenues coming in higher than expected, the idea came back and the funding passed the Legislature without controversy this year.
Bell, who co-chairs the Legislature’s budget-setting committee and was one of the CAFE’s main legislative proponents, said she expects the center will need some state money, albeit less, after it is established to keep it operating.
“It would not be quite self-sustaining, I wouldn’t think,” she said.